III Movie Review
Written by Becky Roberts
Released by One Eyed Films
Directed by Pavel Khvaleev
Written by Aleksandra Khvaleeva
2015, 80 minutes
Frightfest UK Premiere on 28th August 2015
Polina Davydova as Aiya
Lyubov Ignatushko as Mirra
Evgeniy Gagarin as Father Hermen
Russian horror films have always come in more of a trickle than a stream – in the last decade, children on a school bus would draw a higher headcount – but now and again one will come along and make you sit up and listen: Night Watch, perhaps Dead Daughters, and now Pavel Khvaleev’s horror drama III.
When the mother of two young sisters Mirra (Lyubov Ignatushko) and Aiya (Polina Davydova) dies from a mysterious disease that’s wiping out their small European village, the girls are forced to plan a new life elsewhere.
But when Mirra falls ill, a very desperate Aiya is forced to seek help from village priest Father Hermen (Evgeniy Gagarin) who believes an ancient religious ritual could save her sister – but only if Aiya is willing to enter Mirra’s subconscious – plunge into the darkest depths of her mind – to find the root of her pain and kill the heart of her fears.
III sets itself up well, if you don’t mind sitting through the slow burn, scene-setting that is its initial twenty minutes; among the turmoil, sweeping shots of the idyllic village and long frames of the innocent children running through cornfields play out like a tragic poem – a certain nod to Tarkovsky’s distinctive style and Russian cinema’s rich adoration for fairytales.
But what starts as a bleak, somber affair about a barren, quickly-depleting town is soon given a dose of defibrillation when the girls’ demented nightmares and the frightening world in Mirra’s troubled mind come to the fore.
Treading a path so removed from its early premise, III becomes charged with dead-creepy, almost psychedelic, imagery that’ll plague your nightmares for weeks. It’s still gorgeous; credit where credit’s due, cinematographer Igor Kiselev deserves to toot his own horn for his work.
Yet as the sisters confront their demons and find others on the way (yes, there’s a twist to get your head round), underneath is a very touching, humane story of kinship, desperation and dependency – all well expressed by the two strong female leads. Aiya’s touching first-person narrative gives it an even more emotional, personal appeal, and while visually, the film is imaginative, the gripping instrumental score pulls and tugs in all the right places.
Slight narrative imbalance is its weak link; after a leisurely, languid build-up, the latter stages – the climax, the ‘big reveal’ – feel a little rushed, and the abrupt ending won’t sit well with everyone.
Still, III’s creativity and narrative intrigue is enough to carry it through and make it one of Russia’s real genre triumphs.